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Historic midtown N.Y.C. church to transfer air rights to JPMorgan

The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a restoration and maintenance plan for St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church ahead of a development rights deal with JPMorgan Chase. (Jeffrey Zeldman/Flickr)

JPMorgan Chase is one step closer to constructing its new headquarters atop the footprint of the soon-to-be-demolished Union Carbide building in New York City. Since February, the bank has successfully initiated the transfer of development rights from the adjacent Grand Central Terminal and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. On Tuesday, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission signaled the third major structure to give over rights in the deal—the 100-year-old St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church.

The commission voted unanimously to approve a master plan for the restoration and continued maintenance of the historic church, pending the planned transfer of air rights to JPMorgan. Commissioner Michael Goldblum called the decision a “joyous day” for St. Bart’s and acknowledged the success of the many buildings that have begun a revival process due to the deal, some of which would “never have had the ability to raise adequate funds” for themselves.

The financial giant has agreed to purchase at least 50,000-square-feet of development rights from St. Bart’s for $20.7 million, which the deteriorating church will use to underwrite countless renovation projects on site. At the end of June, The Real Deal reported that the bank is also considering buying 505,000 square feet of additional development rights for seven times the current price.



This is all part of JPMorgan’s plan to secure the initial air rights needed to build out its new, 70-story headquarters at 270 Park Avenue. The tower would replace its current home, formerly known as the Union Carbide building, completed in 1961 and designed by Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie Griffin de Blois of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Though it’s not designated as a historic landmark, the building is considered one of New York’s most classic Modernist structures and preservation advocates are criticizing JPMorgan’s attempt to take it down.

Under the Midtown East rezoning plan, which passed in August of 2017, the bank is allowed to build a larger office building as long as it contributes to a “public realm improvement fund.” This includes buying the air rights from various neighboring institutions in order to assist them in carrying out their own structural work. Since it received status as a New York City landmark back in 1967, the Byzantine-style St. Bart’s Church is eligible for both the city’s and JPMorgan’s help. 

Representatives from the church touted the importance of yesterday’s LPC vote, calling it a transfer that “needs to happen” for the building to continue functioning properly. In addition, the New York Landmarks Conservancy as well as Community Board 5 recommended approval.

“The only break in the skyline as you walk along Park Avenue is St. Barts,” said the church’s building committee chairman Peter Sullivan. “This beautiful building gives the eye a much-needed break amidst all the skyscrapers, but any person will tell you it needs a lot of work to fix.”

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